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Ash Wednesday

March 9, 2011

Blessed Lent!

Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil.
As we begin the discipline of Lent,
make this day holy by our self-denial.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen
(Opening Prayer for Ash Wednesday Mass)

Joel 2: 12-18 (God is merciful when we repent)
Psalm 51:3-17 “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned”
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 (We beg you: be reconciled to God!)
+Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 (Our prayer, fasting and almsgiving are to be done
in a spirit of conversion, not for show)

God wants to reward us.

In His profound, unfathomable love for us,
He wants to give us His best, forever;
not simply as a gift, but as an honor that we have in some way merited.
No, He doesn’t owe us anything. He can’t.
We owe Him everything–even our very desire to do good–
but He wants us to have the privilege of making a real contribution that He can reward.

That’s why it’s such a tragedy when we not only don’t merit good things,
but when we go so far as to merit punishment instead.
If there’s one thing God doesn’t want to do, it’s punish us!
But what can justice do when we persist in spiritual self-destruction?

He can have mercy. He can take the punishment on Himself.
He can plead with us to accept His offer of forgiveness and come back to Him.

That’s what He does.
That’s what the Incarnation, the Passion, and the ongoing mission of His Church
–God’s continued life here on earth–
are all about.
That’s why we have this period of forty days to renew in our hearts
just how much God has done for us
–and how much He wants to do for us–
if only we’ll let Him.

But even then, even after love and mercy have wholly spent themselves,
we are still free to reject Him.
He loves us too much to force Himself on us, even to save us from ourselves.

No wonder St. Paul pleads, “Be reconciled to God!” (II Corinthians 5:20)
His soul burns with the longings of the Heart of God!

But reconciliation is only the beginning.

God still wants to reward us!
He’s prepared good works in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10) to win that reward.
The thing is, we can squander even that.
If we do for show, for the admiration of men or for our own pride,
the good works God has prepared for us to do, then we get a reward alright,
but it vanishes as quickly as morning dew in the heat of July.
The praise of men is notoriously fickle.
And even if we get something a little more substantial,
nothing earthly has any real staying power. Nothing earthly ultimately satisfies.
It may bring pleasure for a time, but sooner or later it falls to ashes
and we’re left with nothing.
We’re left wondering, “Is this all there is?”

No! That’s not all there is. That’s what God’s been trying to tell us all along.
There’s more–infinitely more!–and it fills the deepest longings of our hearts.
But it’s not instant gratification.
It’s eternal.

God prepared those works for us to do to win us an eternal reward
–a great reward in Heaven (Matthew 5:12); an unfading crown of glory (I Peter 5:4)–
but we will only win it if we do them out of love instead of pride.

It’s not as hard as it may sound.
God even provides the selfless love when we’re open to it (see Romans 5:5).
He neglects no detail, leaves no stone unturned
in His mission to help us win our reward.

God wants to reward us.
He’s already got His shoulder under the other side of the yoke (see Matthew 11:29).
Let’s go!

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